The Republican dominated State House of Representatives voted to reverse a ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to strike down a requirement that absentee ballots be notarized.
Democratic legislators opposed the action, which was an amendment to a bill.
State Rep. Chris Kannady (Rep., Oklahoma City), sponsor of the amendment, said Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax recommended the legislation.
The measure passed the State House on a nearly straight party line vote, requires absentee ballots to be notarized.
State Senate Bill 210 makes exceptions that would be in place for the June 30 primary election.
If an emergency declaration is in effect within 45 days of a scheduled election, absentee voters would not have to get their ballot notarized.
Instead, a person could sign the ballot and mail it back with a photocopy of their driver’s license.
Democrats argued the ability to make a photocopy presents a barrier to voting because photocopying is not something easily accessible to everyone.
“By passing this legislation, we’re adding an unnecessary barrier for people to exercise their voting rights,” said State Rep. Kelly Albright (Dem., Oklahoma City).
The legislation also allows for some who may have contracted COVID-19, those who may be susceptible to the virus or those are medically fragile to be considered “physically incapacitated” and able to request an absentee ballot be delivered to their home.
The state’s highest court’s ruling was an indicator state law on absentee voting needs to be updated, State Rep. Kannady said.
The court did not strike down Oklahoma’s voting practices, it simply indicated state law needs clarity, he said.
He suggested voter fraud would increase without the legislation, citing the sheer number of voters who have requested absentee ballots since the court’s ruling as an example of voter fraud.
He did not make a clear link between why more requests for absentee ballots indicates that voter fraud is occurring.
“I’ve had people tell me that it is absolutely ridiculous that I go and serve my country… and now I want to curtail voting,” State Rep. Kannady said. “The worst thing you can do is fraudulently vote.
“To me, it is akin to stolen valor. And this is the way we can prevent that from happening.”
Republicans repeatedly argued the notary requirement works to help prevent voter fraud. Asked specific questions about how often voter fraud occurs in Oklahoma, they said it was hard to quantify, but many offered anecdotal examples from their own political campaigns.
State Rep. Scott Fetgatter (Rep., Okmulgee) pointed to State Question 746, which Oklahomans overwhelmingly passed in 2010, as a sign that Oklahomans support additional measures to keep elections secure.
The state question requires voters to show a valid form of identification when they vote in person.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court later ruled in favor of the voter identification law.
“In a time when we’ve heard for several years how our election process has been invaded by Russia, China and all this voter fraud, all we’ve heard today is ‘hey, there’s not really fraud,’” he said.
Democratic lawmakers spent over an hour questioning State Rep. Kannady on the bill, pointing to technical issues and giving examples of how the bill would create barriers to voting.
They criticized the fast-track treatment the bill received, as well.
With the June 30 election rapidly approaching, State Rep. Kannady argued the Legislature had to act fast to give state election officials direction.
“We have to make a decision now,” he said. “We get elected to lead and we have to lead right now to give them time to do what they need to do.”
State Rep. Emily Virgin, the minority leader of the State House, said the legislation was politically motivated, in part, because Republicans want State Question 802, which seeks to expand Medicaid, to fail on June 30.
“I find it pretty ironic that we found a way to let representatives vote by proxy when we’re not at the Capitol, but we’re not willing to trust the public to have sort of the same process in place,” she said.
SB 210 is part of a larger Republican strategy to make it harder for people across the country to vote, she said, dismissing arguments about voter fraud.
Oklahoma is one of three states that requires absentee ballots be notarized,” she stated.
“It’s an obstacle that gets in the way of people voting, said State Rep. Virgin (Dem., Norman).
Oklahoma doesn’t have widespread voter fraud and neither do the states that don’t require absentee ballots to be notarized, she said.
“The voter fraud argument is really just a way for Republicans to make it more difficult to vote,” she added.
The legislation passed on a vote of 74-26. The bill now heads to the State Senate for a vote.